Nebraska Football 2012: Predicting Winners of the Huskers' Top Fall Camp Battles
The Nebraska football team suffered a significant blow on Saturday with the loss of offensive tackle Tyler Moore, who left the team indefinitely to address personal struggles.
The subtraction essentially leaves the starting left tackle position in the hands of junior Brent Qvale, who I originally expected to engage in a fierce competition with Moore for the spot. Qvale should be pushed by younger players like Givens Price and Zach Sterup, but it's his job to lose.
However, there are also several other positions that will feature spirited battles throughout fall camp. Here is a breakdown of the top battles and a predicted winner for each.
Andrew Rodriguez vs. Jeremiah Sirles, Right Tackle
Though it would seem Brent Qvale has left tackle on lockdown without Tyler Moore in the lineup, the battle for right tackle is still going strong.
Andrew Rodriguez has had a strong camp after rededicating himself and moving over from guard, while Jeremiah Sirles has multiple games of experience under his belt at both tackle spots.
The safe pick would be Sirles because of his advantage in experience at the tackle position, but the move to tackle might be just what Rodriguez needs to realize his potential.
Either way, the "loser" of this battle should still see plenty of playing time spelling not only the starter at right tackle, but also Qvale at left tackle if Moore doesn't end up coming back to the team.
Winner: Andrew Rodriguez
Antonio Bell vs. Mohammed Seisay, Cornerback
Mohammed Seisay was a prohibitive favorite to win a starting cornerback spot virtually the moment he committed to Nebraska. His skill set and previous experience at the D-I level were thought to make him uniquely qualified to become a starter immediately—something JUCO recruits have done very well overall under Bo Pelini anyway.
However, despite drawing nothing but solid reviews from coaches ever since he stepped on campus in the spring, he is getting some unexpected (at least from an outside perspective) competition from senior Antonio Bell.
In fact, Pelini said Bell would have been a starter coming out of spring. Since most reasonably assume Andrew Green is the team's No. 1 corner, that means Bell was ahead of Seisay at that point.
In retrospect, that's not a terribly surprising revelation considering how new Seisay was, and still is, to the defense. He'll likely improve rapidly as he learns the defense and may end up overtaking Bell.
However, Bell has clearly proven himself worthy to the coaches, and he should get a lot of playing time no matter who wins the spot opposite Green.
Winner: Mohammed Seisay
Alonzo Whaley/Sean Fisher vs. Zaire Anderson, Outside Linebacker
I may be cheating a little bit by adding an extra name to this competition, but at this point, it wouldn't be surprising to see Zaire Anderson at either position. Hence, this is a competition between the touted JUCO newcomer and two experienced seniors who have had relatively disappointing careers thus far.
Anderson will start out competing with Whaley for the weakside position. Whaley should be more mentally prepared for this season than ever, but Anderson's speed and athleticism had many initially projecting him to take over for Lavonte David immediately.
However, Anderson's physicality has surprised coaches this fall, and he may be tried out on the strong side as well. Like Whaley, Sean Fisher also seems to be past his problems (which had more to do with physical health than off-field troubles) and is currently one of the team's top three linebackers. But there's a reason the coaches recruited Anderson, and it wasn't to sit on the bench.
Even if Anderson doesn't win one of those starting positions, he will almost certainly get a significant load of playing time. In fact, he may be just what the Huskers need to help improve their third down defense.
For now, though, I think experience will trump potential in this battle.
Winners: Alonzo Whaley/Sean Fisher
Tommy Armstrong vs. Brion Carnes, Backup Quarterback
For better or worse, Taylor Martinez is firmly entrenched as Nebraska's starting quarterback. However, the backup spot is still to be determined.
An ideal scenario would have Carnes hanging on to second string and Armstrong redshirting to learn the offense. However, it very well may not happen that way.
For one thing, when Armstrong was being recruited, Tim Beck apparently told him they didn't plan on redshirting him. In addition, the freshman from Steele, Texas has gotten recognized for impressing in fall camp, while nobody has talked much about Carnes.
I love Carnes' game and still hope that he solidifies his spot behind Martinez, which would be a positive for all parties in the long run.
If things continue to go the way they are now, though, it wouldn't be surprising to see Armstrong trotting out onto the field to spell Martinez in situations where the Huskers have a comfortable lead.
Winner: Tommy Armstrong
Tim Marlowe vs. Jamal Turner, Slot Receiver
It's a battle of seniority vs. talent in this faceoff for the starting slot receiver position.
That's not to say senior Tim Marlowe isn't talented, but sophomore Jamal Turner is just that good.
Turner's potential has yet to translate to the field outside of brief flashes, however. Meanwhile, Marlowe is about as steady and reliable a player the Huskers have outside of Rex Burkhead. Marlowe is the definition of an overachiever.
Fans drool over the possibilities that exist for Turner, and with good reason. He dazzled Memorial Stadium in his first spring game as a freshman and created some sparks early in the 2011 season.
But it will take some time for the former quarterback to fully transition to the receiver position. He has already shown improvement as a blocker, but he will have to consistently haul in catchable passes to be a full-time starter.
Marlowe clearly doesn't have the upside that Turner has, but his reliability should earn him the starting position—for now.
Down the road, I envision Turner developing into the type of player that Percy Harvin was during his time as a Florida Gator. Expect to see a little bit of everything from Turner this year. Bottom line, he just needs the ball in his hands.
Winner: Tim Marlowe
PJ Smith vs. Courtney Osborne, Safety
One of Nebraska's safety positions looks to be locked down by senior Daimion Stafford, but two more seniors will be involved in a fierce battle for the other spot—one that will likely extend to the end of fall camp.
PJ Smith and Courtney Osborne both have significant experience, and a decent amount of both success and struggle, as starting safeties for the Huskers.
It's hard to gauge what went wrong for both players after each one had promising outlooks at the beginning of their respective campaigns as starters, but it's clear that they both want to go out with a bang in their final year of college football.
This should be a close race, but I think Smith wins. Expect Osborne to be the primary backup for both Stafford and Smith.
Winner: PJ Smith